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John, Elizabeth Edwards Speak Out on Tawdry Affair; Hillary Clinton's Paper Trail
Aired August 17, 2008 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Sex, lies and media. As John Edwards' account of his affair with Rielle Hunter starts to fall apart, Elizabeth Edwards uses "People" magazine to tell her side of the story. Are journalists wallowing in the tawdry tail they once refused to cover?
Hillary's paper trail. We'll talk to the reporter who uncovered how the Clinton campaign tried to use the press and the low road to tear down Barack Obama.
Crack journalist David Carr of "The New York Times" reveals his past struggles with coke addiction, alcoholism and bad behavior. Is he damaging his own career?
Plus, air war: how Georgia's president is using television to battle Russia.
KURTZ: I had a strong feeling last weekend when John Edwards finally acknowledged having an extramarital affair that we hadn't heard the end of this thing. Not only were there some obvious holes in his account of his relationship with Rielle Hunter, but journalists don't especially like being lied to.
The former presidential candidate admitted that he had lied again and again. Plus, the media love a mystery. And until the question of who fathered that 5-month-old girl is resolved, they are going to stay on Edwards' tail.
Now Elizabeth Edwards has offered her account in "People" magazine, told through her brother and closest friend. The magazine reports that Elizabeth's choice to stick it out with her husband was, to a large degree, guided by the reality that her children one day will no longer have a mother.
The former senator's credibility was further eroded when a friend of Rielle Hunter's named Pigeon O'Brien began making the television rounds and saying Edwards' extramarital affair with the filmmaker hired by his campaign actually began at least six months earlier in 2006 than he has admitted. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIGEON O'BRIEN, FRIEND OF RIELLE HUNTER: As of his statement on Friday evening, he is lying about the timeline of the affair and other details about it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that John Edwards is the father of her daughter?
O'BRIEN: I do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why?
O'BRIEN: I don't see any other explanation. She would not have a child with someone that she didn't love, and she loves him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, are journalists going to keep chasing this story even though Edwards is out of politics, perhaps forever?
Joining us now in New York, Lola Ogunnaike, entertainment correspondent for CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING"; Mark Feldstein, former CNN investigative correspondent who now teaches journalism at The George Washington University"; and Lois Romano, "Washington Post" reporter who has been covering this story.
Lois, John Edwards gave a heartfelt performance on "Nightline," said he was lying before but he's telling the truth now.
Do most journalists believe he's telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
LOIS ROMANO, "THE WASHINGTON POST": No. Most journalists do not. And basically, we're seeing kind of death by a thousand cuts now.
You know, this incremental reporting, and now last Friday, we see sort of an odd money trail where money was given by the wife of his lawyer into his PAC, and that exact amount was paid to Rielle Hunter. And also, we find out that this lawyer who's been paying Rielle also found her a lawyer. We also know now that...
KURTZ: He was -- this was Fred Baron.
ROMANO: Fred Baron, correct.
KURTZ: He was the finance chairman for the Edwards presidential campaign.
ROMANO: Correct. Correct.
KURTZ: And he also now acknowledges that he helped find Rielle Hunter a lawyer and made her a firm...
ROMANO: Right. And... (CROSSTALK)
KURTZ: And he's also paying for her to live in Santa Barbara.
ROMANO: Right, exactly.
KURTZ: All right.
Lola Ogunnaike, for 10 months while "The National Enquirer" story was out there, most news organizations ignored this story until, of course, Edwards said, I did have sexual relations with that woman.
Is there now kind of a media lust for this same tabloid tale?
LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, now, there is, but the media actually slept on this story for 10 months. And I think the media is kind of embarrassed that they were scooped by "The National Enquirer."
But the thing that people have to keep in mind is that, even though "The National Enquirer" is a tawdry supermarket tabloid, sometimes they do get it right. They were right about O.J. They were right about Rush Limbaugh having an addiction to painkillers. And they've been right -- and they were right about Jesse Jackson and his love child.
In this instance, they were right again. So you can't discount this supermarket tabloid rag.
KURTZ: Well, now that the floodgates have opened, it seems like there's just been a whole lot of chatter about this on the airwaves.
Let's take a brief dip into that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL CROWLEY, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": That "Nightline" interview was a little bit of a fiasco. There are a lot of unanswered questions.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: And Senator John Edwards confesses to being a liar. The senator admits to cheating on his wife with a staffer named Rielle Hunter. But is the senator lying again?
JAMES CARVILLE, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Don't know who to believe in this whole thing, but Edwards doesn't have a lot of credibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: On nighttime cable, I'm hearing more about John Edwards and Rielle Hunter than the Russia/Georgia war. Why is that?
MARK FELDSTEIN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MEDIA AFFAIRS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Money. The public is going to be more interested in a sex scandal than in a -- when they hear Georgia, they think the state where Atlanta is the capital. So, you know, there's not much interest in foreign news to begin with. Sex scandals are timeless. They go back to Alxander Hamilton's day. And everybody loves it.
And yes, the media didn't cover it much early on because they couldn't prove it. And now it's payback time.
KURTZ: And you had this extraordinary cover story in "People" magazine which actually led to some headlines like this one in "The Daily News": "I Stayed for My Kids," says Elizabeth Edwards.
Are we now going to have, Lois Romano, two competing media narratives, with the version that Edwards has put out and Elizabeth, taking this sort of independent step of telling her own story, although she's not quoted directly?
ROMANO: Well, I don't think we're going to have it any further than this because I don't think Elizabeth wants a circus for her kids. But I think she's been very troubled by this, and I think she felt like she needed to get her story out, and she used her brother and her best friend to do it.
And basically, you know, her story is she stayed for the kids. She didn't -- you know, she had a choice to make because she has incurable cancer. And, you know, she could have kind of blown up the marriage. But it doesn't answer to question of last October, when he was asked directly if he had an affair with Rielle, and he lied unequivocally and said no.
KURTZ: And Lola, what I'm really struck by is that some liberal bloggers are now angry at Elizabeth Edwards, saying she enabled her husband, she campaigned for him knowing about this affair, knowing that he had cheated on her. I mean, she had -- you know, has had enormous public sympathy because of her battle against cancer and the young kids. And now, it seems to me, her media image is changing just a bit.
OGUNNAIKE: Well, there's a bit of a backlash. I mean, people are suggesting that Elizabeth was in on the cover-up, and that more than anything, she wanted her husband to win. Before the truth, before being honest about all that was going on. She decided that the power or potential power trumped all of that, and people are saying -- they're looking at Elizabeth, and she's not necessarily as sympathetic a character as she once was.
KURTZ: So is that fair commentary, in your view? I mean, because now that we know that she knew?
OGUNNAIKE: I don't necessarily think it's fair, because obviously this woman wants to have a private life. She didn't want her life to be turned into a tabloid circus.
I don't think she wanted her kids to have to suffer this at all. I think she had hoped that this whole thing would go away or they would be able to keep it quiet.
OGUNNAIKE: They decided as a couple that they were going to deal with it the way that they did. She's obviously OK with what they came to terms with. And she didn't want this to be played out the way that it has been played out now.
KURTZ: Although you can't have much of a private life when your husband is running for president, when you are part of that campaign.
But, Mark Feldstein, not everybody in the media have jumped on this bandwagon. Jim Lehrer's "NewsHour' didn't cover the story when it broke a week ago Friday. It did do a media story about the story the following week.
And the PBS ombudsman, Michael Getler, asked the "NewsHour" about this omission and was told by a producer this was just a problem for Edwards and his family. Getler's judgment was that this approach was patronizing and journalists believe mind-boggling.
FELDSTEIN: Well, yes. I mean, you know, but the thing is, mainstream media is not a monolith, and there's a continuum that goes from "The National Enquirer," on one hand, to the "NewsHour" on the other, and the "NewsHour" is well known as the stodgiest and most cautious and conservative, not in the political sense, but in the tabloid sense. So I'm not surprised by their actions, and, you know, it serves a news niche for people who would rather be shielded from that kind of coverage.
KURTZ: How much have attitudes about sex and public figures changed over the years? I'm reminded, Lois, of "The Miami Herald" staking out Gary Hart when he was having his dalliance with Donna Rice. That was in 1987, and then some other journalists were critical of the newspaper for doing that. Now it almost seems like something you'd expect to happen.
ROMANO: Well, I think it's much more expected, but I still think that the mainstream media get a little bit queasy unless they can absolutely prove something.
I think with the Edwards story, what you're seeing, in addition to the fact that he lie to the media, is that you're seeing that people are very uncomfortable with the process. Here's an American running for president that was the longest in history, and it was a fraud. I mean, and we don't know what the outcome could have been.
I mean, it probably would have been the same. But, I mean, I think people are asking themselves that. I mean, they took Edwards at face value -- I'm a family man, I'm running for president -- and basically all of that was not true. And what would have happened if he had admitted the affair last October?
KURTZ: What would have happened if he had won the nomination...
ROMANO: Exactly. KURTZ: ... and we're finding out about this now? I mean, clearly, being a family man was at the heart of the Edwards' presidential campaign.
Lola, you know, certainly, there was no media queasiness during the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky episode. In fact, a lot of people out there felt we just went completely and totally bonkers over that story.
But in other instances -- "The New York Press," for example, hesitated to report on rumors about Rudy Giuliani when he was mayor until he announced he was divorcing his wife at a news conference. And "The Idaho Statesman" had the goods on Larry Craig but didn't report anything until he had that arrest and the incident in the men's room in the Minnesota airport.
It seems almost like everyone in the media wants to be second and not first on these stories.
OGUNNAIKE: I think people want to be very careful. They want hard evidence. They either want law enforcement, something that they can point to.
They don't want to go with the rumor, they don't want to go with the innuendo, because I think the media recognizes that these are people's lives that they are playing with. And they want to make sure that they have the goods before they go ahead and print these stories, or air these stories.
I think you're going to see, though, people like Governor David Paterson, you're going to see a lot of that. You're going to see public officials deciding to come out and air their dirty laundry first, get it all out there, admit to the affairs, admit to cheating, admit to haven stolen a Snickers bar from the local 7-Eleven in fifth grade. Get it all out there before they run for office or before they're given office, and so they can get to the business of leading and not have to deal with their private lives being thrown out there.
FELDSTEIN: And I think there's also a sort of love/hate relationship that the mainstream media have with sex scandals. On one hand, they love it because everybody's interested. The proverbial water cooler conversation is always about the sex scandal, not the invasion of Georgia. But they don't want the boomerang effect with the sleaze, sort of tainting themselves.
So, what we've seen, yes, it goes back to Gary Hart, but I think we've seen the standards lower and the threshold get lower for what's necessary to get it out. It used to be, you had -- a sex scandal had to have affected your public performance. Then, you know, did you spend money on it? Was there hush money? Did you use your job? Was it sexual harassment?
Now it's gotten lower to the point that, well, it's out there in the tabloids and the blog world. And that's a much lower threshold than it used to be. KURTZ: Although, in the case of John Edwards, even though it was clearly out there -- everybody in America knew about this well before CNN and "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" got into this game -- there was still a great reluctance. On the other hand, "The New York Times" absolutely nailed Eliot Spitzer and cost him his job as governor for consorting with high-priced hookers. But there, you had a law enforcement investigation, which you don't have in the Edwards case.
Is that a factor?
FELDSTEIN: Absolutely. I mean, if the media wants to (INAUDIBLE) something, it gives them some protection. And any sort of law enforcement, grand jury investigation -- and Lewinsky case, Ken Starr with the stained dress -- those and the grand jury investigation, those all gave the media an official hook, and they could, in a sense, hide behind the law enforcement investigation and say, look, it's not us that's saying this, it's the authorities.
KURTZ: Yes. Although there were months when we didn't know whether there was a stained dress. And a lot of -- there was a lot of reporting on that story that turned out not to be true.
Let me close with you by asking -- Lois Romano, asking you this question: What is the public appetite for this John Edwards story? I notice when it just comes up in casual conversation that women, in particular, have a visceral reaction to this.
ROMANO: I'm getting a mixed reaction. I'm getting a lot of e- mails that say, you know, "Why are you covering this? We don't care."
But I'm also getting an enormous amount of people coming up to me -- and you're right, largely women -- and saying, "He's lying. He's lying."
And it just -- it goes to the heart of who they are and their families. And basically, that they think this guy lived a lie. And they feel personally lied to. You know, a lot of people feel personally lied to even though they don't know John Edwards.
KURTZ: That's so interesting.
Well, again, I don't think the story is going away anytime soon.
Lois, Lola, Mark, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
When we come back, unconventional thinking. Is the media prepared to invade Denver and St. Paul? Do political conventions still constitute must-see TV? Blogger Jeff Jarvis says the journalistic hoard should just stay home.
KURTZ: The conventions aren't news anymore. They're only staged events to get media coverage. That's the view of blogger Jeff Jarvis and a number of other media critics as well.
And yet, despite these quadrennial complaints, 15,000 journalists are getting ready to descend on Denver next weekend, and I'll be among them, for the Democratic convention. Then the hoards will move to St. Paul for the GOP convention the following week.
So, is all this a waste of precious journalistic resources?
Joining us now, Jeff Jarvis, veteran newspaper man, former critic for "TV Guide," who now blogs at buzzmachine.com.
So, your message to journalists is just stay home?
JEFF JARVIS, BUZZMACHINE.COM: Not all of them, but a few could do the job, I think. We don't need 15,000 people to report a story that has already happened. That's for sure.
KURTZ: Has already happened?
JARVIS: It pretty much has.
KURTZ: I haven't seen Obama's acceptance speech.
JARVIS: And a camera will do a great job of capturing that and showing it to us all. And we can all make our own analyses afterwards.
KURTZ: All right. Let me take the other side.
You say these conventions are totally scripted and drained of any real news. It's hard to argue with that these days. But, for example, won't a significant story at the Democratic convention be the degree to which Hillary Clinton supporters are willing to embrace Obama, especially now that she's won the right to have her name placed in nomination?
JARVIS: There are stories there. But Howie, how many people can do these stories? It's the same story done over and over and over again.
Why are they going? Ego. We have our person there.
Well, the byline means nothing to the reader, I think. And it really indicates, I believe, a more fundamental cluelessness to the management and stewardship of journalism today.
Newspapers are shrinking. TV stations are shrinking. They have less resource.
Is this the best use of this resource, especially in an era where we're shifting to a kind of link economy in news, where the best coverage The Washington Post's coverage, CNN's coverage, is only a click away? So, do you really need to have the Omaha person there next to the Nebraska person there to report the same story we're all watching on CNN and C-SPAN? KURTZ: So you think that the reporter for the Omaha paper or the Miami paper or the Kansas City paper, you name it, are essentially irrelevant because the big boys are there with their cameras and their notebooks and their big circulation?
JARVIS: Yes, and...
KURTZ: Kind of condescending.
JARVIS: No, it's not really, because what are they going to really add? It's the same as -- let's say we're covering golf, right? Does every paper have to have their own golf columnist? Does every paper have to have their own movie critic?
We've had this argument before. I would say no.
The real question though, is, what's the best allocation of those resources? They are scarcer. They are more precious. We have fewer reporters.
That person is better staying in Omaha, doing the story in Omaha. If you want to find out what's happening in the election, talk to voters.
KURTZ: By the way, you dismiss the notion of covering the local delegations. I actually did that once in 1980 for "The Washington Star," and I worked my butt off for four days. I agree, you don't need 30 people to do that, but, you know, your governor, mayor, members of Congress going to the big convention is a significant story.
JARVIS: But you can also see them at home right before they go and do this walkup story. You don't really have to be there.
KURTZ: But you want to do it while it's happening. It's called the news.
JARVIS: Unless you -- maybe you'll see whether they're drunk and had affairs, and maybe that matters now. But other than that, I don't see the stories you're going to get out of it.
KURTZ: Is there sort of an arms race mentality? Like, Gannett newspapers are sending 30 more people. So therefore, "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," I don't know what their figures are, but they feel like they've got to weigh in with a significant number of people too.
JARVIS: Yes, sure. It's an ego thing and it's a showoff thing. Some news organizations are supposedly cutting back. They haven't named who's cutting back, but we've seen some of them cut back some. Meanwhile, there are bloggers filling in those chairs.
And the other question is...
KURTZ: But the newspapers also have bloggers, and people like me who blog. And so in past conventions, I didn't have to worry about that. Now I'm going to be blogging around the clock.
Isn't there some benefit to that. You're into the wired world.
JARVIS: Again, it's fine to have people there. Fifteen thousand, 12,000, 10,000 5,000 -- how many do we need to cover this even? And are we really covering other events to the same allocation?
Forget for a moment the financial allocation. The journalistic allocation, we overcover politics and undercover government. We undercover life and what really matters to people. We think that politics is life, and it's not.
KURTZ: I absolutely agree with that, but I don't see how that problem is solved by keeping your people home during that two-week period. Is it like the Olympics?
JARVIS: You reassign them to other stories. How many stories do you get out of those people during that time?
And the Olympics, too. There's a lot of feature stories about, oh, gee, did you know that the swimmer eats a lot for breakfast? I've seen that story how many times now?
JARVIS: I don't need it told and told and told again.
KURTZ: Right. Although, some people tell me they love the human interest stories about the athletes. I'm into the competition itself.
All right. So you think that the real secret here is that journalists go because they have a grand time, and they go to a lot of parties, and there's the prestige of being in Denver or St. Paul?
JARVIS: And again, that ego value of the byline. Not that readers really notice. I've said before that my own mother didn't notice my own byline when I wrote for the "Chicago Tribune," which may explain a lot about me, subsequent life. But I don't think the bylines matter to the readers at all as much as they matter to the author, to the holder of that byline and the paper.
They think it matters, and it's value they're adding because we sent our own person there. Now in the age of the link, you can link to the best coverage.
KURTZ: Well, one irony is that reporters, they spend thousands of dollars each to go to these things, and they often end up sitting in air-conditioned tents outside the Pepsi Center or the arena watching the thing on television. I don't completely disagree with you. I don't know that we need 15,000. But I do think there's some benefit to having coverage, particularly from a local perspective.
All right. Jeff Jarvis, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
JARVIS: Thank you, Howie. KURTZ: Up next, the Western journalist who got roughed up in China trying to cover the Olympics.
Plus, is Mike Huckabee ready for his close-up on FOX?
Our "Media Minute," straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for the latest from the news business in our "Media Minute."
The promises that Chinese authorities made about press freedom at the Olympics now sound pretty hollow. Police arrested correspondent John Ray of Britain's ITV this week and demanded to know his views on Tibet.
Here's a tape of what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN RAY, ITN REPORTER: These people are arresting me. I've been arrested by the Chinese police for doing -- just trying to cover the protest here. I was inside the park. I was physically manhandled to the ground and dragged out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Ray was later released, but other Western journalists protested his treatment a news conference, prompting a Chinese official to declare that a few correspondents came to Beijing to be critical and find fault. What could anyone find fault with?
KURTZ (voice over): "The New York Post," owned by Rupert Murdoch, reported this week that former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has just shot a pilot for his own shown on FOX News, also owned by Rupert Murdoch. But FOX News says that's not true, that it's just discussing a possible program with the former presidential candidate.
Huckabee was quoted as saying he'd rather do cable than serve in a McCain administration -- "... barely surviving to have some obscure cabinet post and have some 20-year-old from the White House telling me what I'm going to do?"
KURTZ: Leroy Sievers, a former executive producer of "Nightline" who covered more than a dozen wars, has died of colon cancer. And it was his long battle against cancer which he candidly chronicled in NPR commentaries and blog postings that touched many people.
Sievers once wrote, "Every one of us knows someone who's had to face that news. It's scary, it's sad, but it's still life, and it's a life worth living."
His certainly was. Leroy Sievers was 53.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Hillary's low road. The Atlantic's Josh Green talks about the memos he uncovered about how the former first lady wanted to use the press to attack Obama and how she's likely to be covered at the Denver convention.
Plus, on the rebound. "New York Times" columnist David Carr has an ugly past, clouded by alcohol, drugs and arrests. He talks about the long climb back ahead.
KURTZ: Everyone knows that half the people in the Hillary Clinton campaign couldn't stand the other half. But we really didn't know how bad it was or how they wanted to use the press, or how low some advisers wanted to go in tearing down Barack Obama. That is until The Atlantic's Joshua Green obtained a stack of confidential memos from the Clinton campaign, which he writes about in the new issue.
Josh Green joins us now in the studio, along with Julie Mason, White House correspondent for "The Houston Chronicle," who joins us from President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Why did the Clinton people leak you these highly-sensitive memos? Are they still engaged in payback?
JOSHUA GREEN, "THE ATLANTIC": You know, I'd like to think it's my personal charisma, but yes, I suspect payback was probably a motive. But I think the real reason, too, is, you know, everybody knows the Clinton advisers have longstanding rivalries, don't like each other. What I was surprised to find was a lot of these people I think really wanted the story to come out, really wanted people to have a clear understanding that it was the candidate herself, really, and not just the advisers who helped kind of bring the downfall to this historic campaign.
KURTZ: You say that the journalistic exercise known as the campaign obit is inherently flawed. But in putting together a story like this, don't you rely on sources who cooperate and...
GREEN: Well, I do. I mean, what I had the chance to do, and what the piece did successfully, I think, was to get the memos not just of one senior adviser, so you're getting one side, but from everybody. I mean, if you go on our Web site, there's Mark Penn, Harold Ickes, Jeff Garin, Guy Cecil. You know, name it.
You know, you go through the roster of people who are advisers. And you can go and see their e-mails and see what they were writing and saying at the time.
KURTZ: And I'm sure you went to a few people and said, look, the other people are playing ball. You sure wouldn't want your point of view not to be represented, would you? GREEN: I learned that in the playground, yes, when I was in third grade.
KURTZ: Julie Mason, the memo that's gotten the most attention is from Mark Penn from last March, Hillary's chief strategist at the time. He writes -- he wrote -- "I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and his values."
"He (Obama) told the people of New Hampshire yesterday he has a Kansas accent because his mother was from there. His mother lived in many states as far as we can tell. This is an example of the nonsense he uses to cover this up."
"Every speech should contain the line 'You were born in the middle of America, to the middle class, in the middle of the last century.' Let's explicitly own American in our programs, the speeches and the values. He doesn't."
Is this going to change the way the media portrayed Mark Penn? I mean, this is breathtakingly cynical and in some ways offensive memo. Or is it just going to be, well, it's a campaign and he played hardball?
JULIE MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "HOUSTON CHRONICLE": Well, I don't think Mark Penn was a darling of the media at all. I mean, I don't think he's been the recipient of much fun in coverage. But it is deeply cynical.
And as Josh points out in his excellent piece, Hillary Clinton didn't adopt it. And she was wise not to. But I think for people who cover politics, it's cynical, but it was probably not unexpected. But I think for the public, I think for a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters and true believers, this was a real eye-opener.
KURTZ: Josh Green, you say that the Hillary campaign aggressively pressured reporters to write negative stories about Barack Obama. Was that an effective tactic?
GREEN: No, I don't think it was. I mean, the problem that they had in media relations, which, you know, I had the pleasure of experiencing first hand, was that, you know, they would beat up on reporters, they would try and control coverage when she was up. But the problem was they couldn't agree on a strategy, so that when she was down, the campaign itself was never really able to drive a consistent attack against Obama.
So they became evermore reliant on guys like you and me to write the negative stories that they couldn't pull off. And the problem is, it got such terrible press relations. You know, that's kind of tough sell. You wouldn't go into your doctor's office and poke him in the eye before you went in for surgery. You know, the same lesson, I think, applies here.
KURTZ: So they weren't always polite to you during the campaign, I'm getting the impression. GREEN: No. Not just me.
KURTZ: Julie Mason, Josh Green also writes that when that strategy didn't work, the Hillary Clinton campaign resorted to outright attacks against the press.
How did that work out for them?
MASON: Nothing seemed to work for the Clinton campaign and the press. I mean, it's a relationship that started out bad and seems to have gotten worse.
And we see in Josh's piece that the conflict within the campaign paralyzed the campaign. It was just a terrible mess. And the media was wise to it, they were hip to it.
And even though the campaign obits, as Josh pointed out, were sometimes incomplete, they're on the money about how press relations were really bad. And you don't have to woo the press. I think the press expects you to be straight with them. And the campaign wasn't straight with them, as was clearly demonstrated in these memos.
KURTZ: Of course, the Clinton campaign, at a time last year when you were working the story about he inner workings of that campaign, got "GQ" magazine to kill your piece by saying that Bill Clinton, for a separate story about his trip to Africa, wouldn't cooperate for a cover story on that trip.
That was not exactly a profile encouraged by "GQ," was it?
GREEN: No. But, you know, thankfully, there are magazines like "The Atlantic" that have a long history of writing hard-hitting stuff like this piece, you know, no matter who it offends.
KURTZ: What about the convention coming up? Obviously, the Obama campaign wants it to be flawless and scripted and choreographed. Will reporters be focusing on spotlighting disgruntled Hillary supporters who don't want to close ranks behind Senator Obama?
GREEN: Yes. You know, I think they will. And I think stories like these that come out and kind of show you what the Clinton folks were really saying about Obama -- clearly, a lot of them still feel this way -- you know, aren't going to help things. And Clinton herself is such a drama for reporters to write about, to talk about. You know, we couldn't help ourselves even if we wanted to.
KURTZ: There was a certain addiction factor there.
KURTZ: Let me turn now to last night's presidential forum. This was Pastor Rick Warren and California's Saddleback Church. He had Obama and McCain on separately, asked them a lot of questions you don't usually get asked at these things, including -- well, I'll let you hear the question, but in response, Obama talked about his teenage drug use, and John McCain talked about his past infidelity years ago. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PASTOR RICK WARREN, SR. PASTOR, SADDLEBACK CHURCH: What would be, looking over your life -- everybody's got weaknesses, nobody is perfect -- would be the greatest moral failure in your life?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I trace this to is a certain selfishness on my part. I was so obsessed with me and, you know, the reasons that I might be dissatisfied, that I couldn't focus on other people.
SEN. JOHN McCain (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My greatest moral failing -- and I have been a very imperfect person -- is the failure of my first marriage.
WARREN: And everybody has some kind...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Julie Mason, this was on Saturday night, up against the Olympics. Michael Phelps winning his record-shattering eighth gold medal.
Is this going to be a blip in terms of the campaign coverage?
MASON: I don't know. I mean, I think McCain really did something extraordinary the way he answered that question, Howie.
He addressed an issue that the campaign has been having a hard time figuring out how to deal with. They've wanted to confront it, it's out there on the Internet, it's something that Democrats are trying to use against McCain.
So he put it out there, he acknowledged it. And he sort of inoculated himself against it. I think that's really going to help him.
Obama's answer, you know, that was not new information. For a 47-year-old man to claim that his worst moral failing happened when he was a teenager, I don't know, it's a little disingenuous.
So I think it does get some traction going forward. There was a lot of news coverage, even if people weren't necessarily watching the forum.
KURTZ: Right. McCain has acknowledged that he was not faithful in his first marriage, but not necessarily before a national television audience.
Rick Warren, he asked questions about the nature of evil, Christ, abortion. Did he elicit more interesting answers than a network anchor might have?
GREEN: I think he intended to. I mean, it seemed to be more of a conversational setting. You know, we were told ahead of the time there weren't going to be any "gotcha" questions. He certainly managed to slip in a couple on the Supreme Court and other things.
But the fact that it wasn't, you know, a row of candidates at a podium getting that kind of prosecutorial approach...
KURTZ: And he wasn't confrontational. He wasn't interrupting the way I'm doing now...
KURTZ: ... by saying, OK, you're saying this, but what about when you said last February -- and let me put it up on the screen -- it was much more of a conversation.
GREEN: Yes. I mean, just the very fact that it was the changeup from, you know, the 47 debates that we've had previously, I think, just the setting alone gave you a chance to see the candidates in a different way. And I think necessarily that elicited different answers.
And I'd actually disagree a little bit with Julie. You know, McCain gave the kind of answer you give to Wolf Blitzer. Obama meandered, gave the sort of answers you'd give to Oprah Winfrey. So it was an interesting style -- contrasting styles.
KURTZ: It was an interesting couple of hours.
Josh Green, Julie Mason, thanks for joining us this morning.
Up next, hitting rock bottom. From battling the demons of addiction to writing for "The New York Times," David Carr talks about rebuilding his life and why it's still a struggle.
KURTZ: David Carr is a familiar byline for "New York Times" readers, a media columnist who weighs in on everything from the decline of newspapers to fabulous Oscar parties. But Carr has now ripped the lid off a very dark story -- his own.
In his book, "The Night of the Gun," Carr describes in brutal detail his struggles with crack and alcohol addiction, his abusive behavior toward women, and how he wound up raising twin girls on his own even while battling his demons.
Here's how he describes his past life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID CARR, "NEW YORK TIMES": I told you I was a drug addict who sobered up, got custody of his kids, got them off welfare, survived cancer, and went on to become a columnist for "The New York Times," would you like my story? You bet. What if I told you I was a (INAUDIBLE), sold drugs, beat up women, terrorized children? Then maybe not so much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, what are we to make of this book and the transformation of David Carr? I spoke to him earlier from New York.
KURTZ: David Carr, welcome.
CARR: Hello, Howard. How are you?
KURTZ: Doing well.
This is a book that examines some ugly periods in your life. Weren't you hesitant to share this with the world?
CARR: Well, I thought there would be value not just for me, but for hundreds, maybe thousands of other people who've been tagged as hopeless in their life and have hit rock bottom. And there's always sort of an assumption that once you go so low, that you can only go so high. And my story, and I can think of a lot of others, provides a counterexample of that.
KURTZ: Why did you develop this technique for the book of going back and interviewing with a camcorder all of these people from your life at a time when you were clearly an addict and not doing very well?
CARR: Well, I mean, it's not really my technique, per se, it's been going on for, you know, decades. I've just adopted it to a book.
We have cheap ubiquitous technology that allows us to sort of keep track of everything around us, sometimes too well. In this instance, I thought there would be -- you have got to remember, I work at "The New York Times" and I sit right next to the books people. And I've watched these memoirs come apart in plain view. And I thought, well, if I'm going to do this thing, I probably should try and double rivet it and make sure that not only does it have the ring of truth, but that I have the evidence to support the book that I wrote.
KURTZ: But can we trust you as a narrator? You write that you aren't sure whether you once pulled a gun on a friend of yours named Donald. I mean, your memory apparently is hazy on a lot of these episodes.
CARR: I (INAUDIBLE) 30 years of journalism that I've done work is always sort of the last thing to go. And I'm sure, you know, it's a legitimate question, but this is not a book about journalistic misfeasance or malfeasance.
I've never been involved in any kind of caper involving reporting. Reporting is something I hold dear, the values of the institution I work for. And I like to think that every single week I step up with the same care and effort that every reporter does. KURTZ: Well, I'm just fascinating by the role of memory. I mean, here you are reporting your own story, and it turns out the things that you were absolutely certain of -- and this could happen to any of us -- it happened 20, 30 years ago -- other people have different memories and it's hard to find out where the truth lies.
But I'm also fascinated by what happened to you in your home town of Minneapolis. You lost jobs, you were in and out of rehab. A guy as talented as you just couldn't get off the coke at that time, could you?
CARR: Well, I don't think that there's a correlate between talent or character and addiction. If there were, I mean, I think you could go down through the ages and find people who were plenty talented or serious people who couldn't get off the sauce or couldn't get off drugs.
I don't -- you know, I buy into the disease concept of addiction. I certainly had a durable case of it. And yes, it's amazing to me, not so much that I got stuck in it -- I think that was happening for a long time -- but that I actually got away from it.
KURTZ: You write about your abusive behavior toward women years ago. Your girlfriend Anna (ph), who is the mother of twin girls, and who you later raised on your own, you write about breaking her rib, you write about how you were smoking crack the day that the babies were going to be born. Some of this is hard to read, David.
CARR: Well, it was pretty hard to report, pretty hard to write. And I don't think I fully was aware of what I was doing.
When I took the information -- and I approached the book like I was writing about somebody else. And I have my own contacts for my history and my behavior. And I like to tell the story about getting off drugs and living through cancer, and getting custody of my kids, and getting a really good job. But that's not the whole story.
And the darker parts of the story, I really didn't have trouble writing them down. It's just now I've become that person, and I don't think I really fully understood what it would be like to become that person in the book.
KURTZ: Right. And yet, you did overcome all that. You raised these two girls, you got married again, you had another baby, you got hired at "The New York Times," where you have a very prominent job.
And then about three years ago, you had a relapse. What happened?
CARR: Well, I'd like to say, you know, there was some very complicated Freudian imperatives at work and that some darkness overtook me. I think it was your very common midlife crisis, where I had everything that anybody would want in terms of the promises that recovery had washed over me in abundance. And it just came to me that, maybe I should pour a little whiskey over this and see how it goes. You know what? It didn't go very well.
KURTZ: And so then you had to kick your renewed bout with alcoholism as well.
CARR: Yes. And it doesn't really matter what the substance is.
KURTZ: I see.
CARR: I mean, I have my issues with caffeine and nicotine currently. And I wouldn't say I'm winning any huge victories that way.
It was -- in the book, it's described as additional research. And it was helpful to the extent that it established firmly in my mind that, no matter how normal I feel, I'm not really a normal person when it comes to schedule one (ph) narcotics or beverage alcohol.
KURTZ: Right. Well...
CARR: Not really my real host (ph), if you know what I mean, Howard.
KURTZ: Clearly, there are legal addictions as well as illegal addictions.
Now, among the people you interview for "The Night of the Gun" are your twin daughters, now teenagers. One of them, Erin, she talked about her feelings toward you growing up with you as her father. And then she, in the second part of the clip we're about to show, she talked about a near-automobile accident that happened when you had your kids in the car and you were driving under the influence, as they say.
Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIN CARR, DAVID CARR'S DAUGHTER: ... an intelligent guy, definitely. I mean, courtesy, respect, all of those things that I see some of my peers walking (ph), I know it's because of my upbringing.
That's when everyone knew for sure that you were just completely ass-face drunk, and like, just the most irresponsible thing you could ever do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Was that hard to hear?
CARR: Yes, every single time I hear it. I mean, I'm proud of Erin, her directness, her willingness to both acknowledge that we've come a long ways together, but that it wasn't as smooth or as lovely as I would have hoped.
The story that ends up in the book is not the glorious, uninterrupted ark of recovery. There's stumbles, there's bumps. People get hurt. Sort of like life, actually.
Well, now that you have laid this all out there in the book -- it was excerpted in "The New York Times" magazine -- do you think it may be a little harder for you to work as a reporter with all the sources, the people you deal with professionally, knowing your deep, dark secrets.
CARR: You know, two weeks ago I would have said, Howard, that is a nonissue. Not going to happen.
But right now, I'm in the thicket of coverage, and many of the people that I write about are currently writing about me. And it's created at least a temporary sort of problem for me.
In terms of what the long-term implications for my career, it's -- you know, it's difficult for me to measure at this point. But I've had a massively positive reception. I'm pretty proud of the book. People seem to like it. People seem OK with the guy that wrote it. And probably most importantly, my bosses think it's a really good book.
KURTZ: Always interesting for a journalist to be on the other side, being written about. In this case, obviously...
CARR: You aren't kidding about that.
KURTZ: In this case, you're obviously turning the spotlight on yourself.
David Carr, thanks very much for joining us.
CARR: Thank you, Howard.
KURTZ: Still to come, how Georgia's president is outgunned by the Russians but still seems to be winning the media war.
KURTZ: It was overshadowed at first by the John Edwards affair, but the bloody Russian invasion of Georgia is a far more important story, and one in which the small country's president has waged war not just militarily, but through television. While most Americans were stunned by the news, the confrontation had, in fact, been brewing for months.
KURTZ (voice over): Vladimir Putin was upset when Western powers offered Georgia membership in NATO. Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of the former Soviet republic, provoked the confrontation by sending troops into the breakaway enclave of South Ossetia to battle the rebels. Russia had earlier angered Georgia by sending 400 soldiers to the area, supposedly to fix a railroad. But little of this was reported in newspapers, and even less on television, until war broke out. When Russian tanks rolled into his country, Saakashvili, who took classes at George Washington University and has been a strong U.S. ally, made an appeal on "LATE EDITION."
MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI, PRESIDENT OF GEORGIA: The United States and the world community should stop intervention and invasion of my sovereign country.
KURTZ: The Russian ambassador to the U.N., Alexander Darchiev, was not as sympathetic a figure.
ALEXANDER DARCHIEV, RUSSIAN AMB. TO THE UNITED NATIONS: In no way do we have plans to invade Georgia. Again, our goal is to force adventurist Georgian leadership to peace.
KURTZ: And that turned out to be flatly untrue. Russian tanks pushed past the breakaway region into Georgia's heartland. And when Russia under international pressure to a cease-fire, Saakashvili went on CBS and CNN to call that a sham.
SAAKASHVILI: Russian tanks are going through villages inhabited by Georgian population and throwing people out of the houses, putting people into concentration camps that they are setting up in those villages, and separating men and women, and doing worse kind of atrocities unheard of since Balkan or since the war in Chechnya.
KURTZ: The embattled president even stirred fears of a full- blown occupation.
SAAKASHVILI: They've been doing worse things to what I've heard in the past and I could never imagine happening in my country. And they have been advancing slowly but surely towards the capital, Tbilisi.
KURTZ: The Russian forces wound up stopping about 25 miles short of the capital. The Georgian president, meanwhile, continued to press his case on "LARRY KING LIVE," and with an op-ed piece in "The Washington Post."
KURTZ: And the media offensive continues. Saakashvili is scheduled to be on "LATE EDITION" after this program.
What he is attempting, waging war by media, is rather remarkable. Some Russian officials complained that American media coverage of the conflict has been biased. Well, I'll tell you what -- when a giant invasion invades a tiny one and begins bombing civilians for what the Russians called punishment, don't be shocked if the media shows some sympathy for the country under siege.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
I'll see you next weekend from Denver at the Democratic convention.